King Krule. Zoo Kid. DJ JD Sports. They’re all pseudonyms used by Archy Marshall at various points in his career, separating genre adventures and production experiments. But Marshall’s work has always been characterised by the same feature: namely, an overarching sense of melancholy and resignation. A New Place 2 Drown is Marshall’s first release under his real name (his second album proper) and in many ways it represents a synthesis of his career to date.
Well, almost. There’s none of the post-punk guitar that anchored the King Krule album 6 Feet Beneath The Moon. Instead, A New Place 2 Drown is rooted in electronica and hip-hop, a mix of gauzy grey synths and slow, stark beats. The awkward rhythms and gloomy introspection hark back to the heyday of trip-hop, but there’s no gloss or finesse on anything here. Marshall’s voice is still the same: older than his years, a guttural growl which is uncompromisingly flat; but there’s none of the strained hollering that shaped 6 Feet. The lyrics are not quite spoken, not quite rapped – it’s almost beat poetry, but without the connotations of earnestness implied. The influence of cloud rap looms heavily, but it’s a subdued, soft interpretation.
It’s a direction that suits him. The confrontational harshness of 6 Feet sometimes felt a little contrived, the sound of a young man desperate to shape the world to his view, whereas A New Place 2 Drown is arch in an unshowy way. Not that there’s any sense of bravado or machismo to be found – frustration has been replaced by bitter acceptance, a sense of powerlessness and futility. Lyrical fragments flow in and out of focus, but the general gist revolves around the acknowledgement of the unfulfilling grind of everyday life. It’s the same joyless language of post-punk, familiar territory for the cynical outgrowing the last shackles of adolescence.
But A New Place 2 Drown is startling in how it sounds. Over its forty minutes, the tempo is consistently glacial and the pads misty and deep. Marshall’s jazz background shows in some unexpected chord progressions, and its murky swirl is hypnotic and disorientating. At the same time, it’s an unevolving sound palette – there’s no sense of risk or development over its length. It’s impossible to imagine this isn’t deliberate – after all, how better to convey jaded ennui than through a sense of familiar repetition? But this can feel like a weakness too; by the end of the album, the slow beats begin to feel inert and the foggy production turns monochrome. However, A New Place 2 Drown is filled with flourishes and motifs that seem fresh over repeated listens – the kind of album that rewards patience and close attention. The production is more than the perhaps-expected rudimentary loops, but at the same time it’s not exactly an audiophile’s dream – simply put, it’s hard to imagine anyone being won over by the album, rather than forming an instant reaction.
A New Place 2 Drown is intended as an accompaniment to a book of poetry and artwork credited to both Archy Marshall and his elder brother Jack, who works as a “visual artist.” The promotional website suggests an interest in urban realism, the kind of brutalist modernity that shapes city life and culture. It’s the kind of Gesamtkunstwerk that runs the risk of triteness and self-parody, except the Marshall brothers seem dedicated and sincere in their approach.
‘When it rains it f****** pours’ spits Archy Marshall halfway through final track ‘Thames Water,’ in one of the album’s moments of jarring lucidity. It’s not a particularly clever or original lyric but it feels like a vital component in unlocking A New Place 2 Drown: a grey, downcast mood, conjuring a sense of resignation and despondency when faced with the world. The Marshall brothers inhabit a world that’s uninviting and unexciting, but it’s a world unique to them, fully owned and understood in all its urban grit. The monotonous sludge of reality is still a mesh of textures and colours to explore: A New Place 2 Drown casts a shadow over them, daring them to stand out.